When Apple announced the iPhone 7 would not have a 3.5 mm headphone jack, my immediate reaction, much like yours, was WTF? I stream music off my phone more than I do on any device, often through a pair of chunky, traditional, over-the-ear studio headphones. How could the company that revolutionized the way people consume music literally cut the chord between users and their devices?
As it turns out, there are smarter ways to stream audio.
A 3.5 mm headphone jack serves very little purpose other than sending out audio. Headphone jacks take up a lot of space, you can’t send power through it, you can’t connect other devices through it, you can’t operate the phone through it, and you can’t waterproof it. In other words, in the eyes of the world’s most innovative tech company, 3.5 mm jacks are obsolete.
One of the biggest consumer complaints that come with any new device like the iPhone 7 is that upgrading often forces you to update your companion devices as well. After spending hundreds of dollars on a new phone you must also upgrade your chargers, cases and headphones in order to take advantage of the new device’s technology. That’s a luxury that many people struggle to afford, but if you are able to do it, the new wave of wireless artificially intelligent audio headphones available to consumers is nothing short of a revelation.
First, let’s start with Apple’s AirPods, the wireless companion earbuds to the iPhone 7. It’s clear from Apple’s new line of products that they firmly believe in a wireless future and also a future where multiple devices sync and communicate with each other.
Yes, the AirPods are earbuds, but they do much more than just playback audio. AirPods recognize the user’s voice, allowing you to talk to Siri, Apple’s built-in, AI assistant, without taking your phone out of your pocket or fidgeting with the Apple Watch. With AirPods you can make calls, launch a music playlist, adjust the volume and get directions all through the sound of your voice.
Third-party hardware developers are also brining AI headphone systems to the market with some very cool features. Bragi Dash wireless earbuds will learn your body’s gestures and respond accordingly. For example, nod yes to accept a call, shake your head no to decline it. They are also waterproof and can track your activity level, making them a nice accessory for athletes.
Most impressive is Doppler Labs’ Here One headphone system. At face value Here One gives users much of the same function as Apple’s AirPods. Users can make calls, talk to a device’s AI assistant and stream audio, but the big differences are that Here One can sync with a variety of operating systems and, most importantly, it allow users to tune the audio world around them.
What does that mean exactly? Well, think about the last time you were on an airplane. How badly did you want to tune out the overwhelming white noise of air travel and the crying baby one row back? Using Here One’s accompanying app you can literally choose what you want to hear. Remove the chaos around you with a quick adjustment and focus solely on your streaming music. It’s noise cancelation done smartly.
Here One also allows users to EQ the world around them. For example, if you were at a loud concert and felt the snare hits from the drum kit were too loud, using their app you could EQ that frequency out and make a personal audio mix much more tolerable and enjoyable to listen to.
These new wireless headphones are meant to be functional, wearable technology that allows us to interface and fine-tune our relationship with technology in a very personal way. As someone who spends the bulk of their day streaming audio, often on the go, shaping sound to fit my needs is enticing. If this kind of technology is available now, I can only image what advancements we will see in the near future.
Regardless, useful wearable technology is here and the way we interact with audio will never be the same.
A couple weeks ago I found myself in Detroit touring one of America’s great music destinations, the Motown Museum.
The home of Motown from 1959 to 1972, Hitsville is a must visit for any music fan. Essentially a two-story home converted into a recording studio and administrative office, the overall impression of the building is not that impressive. The music created inside, however, is a completely different story.
The guided tour starts off with a quick history of the label and founder Berry Gordy. After writing a number of hit singles for other R&B artists in the late 1950s, Gordy, a former boxer, founded Motown with the encouragement of Smokey Robinson, his business partner and lead singer of the Miracles, and a small $800 loan from his family in 1959.
A seemingly endless stream of hits followed from the Supremes, the Temptations, the Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and the Jackson 5.
In just a few short years Gordy built up a recording empire in the heart of the Motor City so adept at topping the pop charts it became known as Hitsville U.S.A.
The tour continues with a walk through the second-floor Gordy apartment and, finally, the original recording studio, Studio A. The interior of Hitsville is original to the 1960s heyday. The desk that Martha Reeves answered phones at looks untouched, as does the couch Marvin Gaye slept on and the candy machine young Stevie Wonder frequented.
What will stick with me the most though is how Gordy was able to build a community through music that crossed racial and political lines, not only within Detroit, but with the entire world.
The initial Motown roster included artists that grew up in and around Detroit’s public housing projects. For example, the founding members of the Supremes all grew up in the Brewster-Douglass housing project with Smokey Robinson. The greatest feat Gordy ever achieved was taking the best talent out of Detroit’s poorest neighborhoods and packaging it for mass audiences worldwide.
Initially that packaging meant omitting pictures of the artists on their own records because Gordy wanted people to judge the music by its quality and not the color of the artists’ skin. It also meant Motown’s songwriters had to start writing music based on universal themes so all audiences could relate.
“I wanted songs for the whites, blacks, the Jews, Gentiles, the cops and the robbers. I wanted everybody to enjoy my music,” Gordy said.
Motown’s catalog, more than 180 worldwide No. 1 hits, speaks volumes to Gordy’s legacy. Lined with nothing but classic hit records, Gordy’s ability to connect all walks of people through music during a time of extreme tension is as impressive as any piece of memorabilia hanging on the walls of the museum.
Motown defined the sound of 1960s young America, but those records are still as fresh today as they ever were. I hope there’s still Motown magic left for us to draw on. Gordy’s vision of uniting the world around a simple pop song is as relevant today as it was in the 1960s.
Forty years is a long to time to commit to any job, let alone one in the music industry. You don’t spend the time and resources on something like DJing unless there is a drive deep within your bones telling you to do it. One has to have a passion to play shows, sometimes to empty rooms, sometimes well into the early dawn. Money, fame and sold-out shows come only for a lucky few. The rest of us are driven by a burning need to create a fresh experience for ourselves and for the audience.
The first time I remember seeing DJ Jettt play was one of those late-night, empty-room shows, the kind of show most DJs would phone in. It was well past midnight in the big room at the Mesa Theater for Radio Soul Train 2014. The entire venue had emptied out except for a handful of aimless kids looking for one last drink and the shot at a late-night hookup. Jettt was on stage behind a wall of red and green LEDs, spinning an all-vinyl, late-era disco set. Smooth transitions, clean breaks, the works. It sounded amazing.
The idea that someone could blend records so effortlessly without the aid of technology was mind-blowing. Seeing someone throw down without that crutch is kind of incredible, especially in this day and age where computer programs can beat match and sync songs for you at the tap of a button.
I’m sure I was the only one who noticed what Jettt was doing that night. In some respects, I felt like that show was for me. There’s no way the drunks stumbling around the dance floor knew or cared what was happening. They were too far gone, drowning in well alcohol, and couldn’t possible appreciate the mastery happening right in front of them.
That’s the funny thing about DJing, people only notice when your royally screw up and the music stops. They don’t notice the careful song selections or the spur-of-the-moment remixes. DJing is an unrewarding grind. Those who do it, do so because they love DJing.
This year, Bert Whittenberg, aka DJ Jettt, celebrates his 40th year behind the decks. Starting out in 1975, Jettt has been DJing longer than I’ve been alive. To put this achievement in perspective, 1975 was the year that DJ Grand Wizzard Theodore invented the scratching technique that led to turntablism and the emergence of the hip-hop genre. 1975 also predates the birth of disco club culture. “Saturday Night Fever” wouldn’t be released for another two years and famed New York nightclub Studio 54 had yet to open its doors. In other words, Jettt was into DJing before it was even a thing.
Hooked almost immediately to both the music and the way crowds reacted to this new live remix format, Jettt became a full time DJ in the 1980s, playing until 5 a.m. six nights a week. Early on, Jettt played out under the short-lived nickname Bertazoid, before switching back to his own name, Bert, sometime Harris, Whittenberg. DJ Jettt is a relatively new performance name, one he adopted right after moving to Colorado.
Starting out on a Technics 1100 and Thorens 126 turntable with a Bozac Mixer, Jettt still occasionally puts those skills to the test by playing the aforementioned all-vinyl sets.
Fast forward to 2016, Jettt will be playing at the 8th annual Zombie Prom next month for the fourth time.
“I never plan a set (ahead of time), however, this year being a significant anniversary for myself and returning for this function my fourth time, I have started making some notes to make sure I don’t leave anything out,” Jettt said.
Careful not to completely tip his hand, Jettt did tease some of the artists likely to end up in his set. Expect both David Bowie and Prince to be in heavy rotation, as well as The Cure, The Clash, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Donna Summer and Earth Wind and Fire.
In many ways Jettt’s playlist captures his career as DJ. Incorporating new genres into his music library as they became popular, Jettt is a tome of dance music knowledge. He can take you back to the heyday of hip-hop, disco, house, and drum and bass because he was there, living it, and made a point of working these fresh styles into his sets.
Jettt has been a constant and consistent presence in the Grand Junction music scene and the fact that he cut his chops in the Miami house scene decades ago, and shares his passion and talent with local up and coming DJs, is invaluable to the community.
All the DJs playing Zombie Prom this year are qualified and deserving of the main stage spotlight, but this one in particular deserves the love.
For one night back in November, all was right in the world. The small side of Sabrosa was stacked five deep at the bar with freaks and geeks getting loose, alternating between bottles of Sessions Premium Lager and shots of Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey.
Waves of Grand Junction’s bored and disenfranchised youth crashed through the front door, packing the bar right to the point of being uncomfortable. Standing room only doesn’t begin to explain the density of the situation. Stuffed in shoulder-to-shoulder with amped-up 20-and 30-somethings usually presents a number of obvious problems. That Saturday night, though, was magic. No fights, no problems, just a room buzzing with anticipation. Soon the band that inspired more passion and local enthusiasm than anyone was about to cut it up.
Body odor, stale booze, and cigarette smoke wafted through the air, mixing with mic checks and snare hits coming from the back of the room. Craning necks turned, trying to get a glimpse of the source of the sound and gage how far away they were from showtime.
It would still be a while. Barely visible under the yellow glow of Sabrosa’s track lighting the four groups of musicians, Homebody, American Culture, New York City Cops and Bronco Country were milling around, doing whatever bands do before shows.
As the bass player for New York City Cops, there was really nothing for me to do besides tune my guitar and let the real primadonnas — the drummers and guitar players — fiddle with their cymbals and pedal boards. We played last that night so I hit the bar for a quick drink before ducking into the back alley to chill out before things got out of control.
From the alley I could eventually hear the crowd yelling “hot dog!” That meant it was time to get back inside. For unknown reasons, that chant had become the rally cry for Bronco Country. It meant they were on stage and about to start playing.
I squeezed in a couple rows back from the front — close enough to be in the action but far enough away to bolt when the mosh inevitably got too rowdy. As Bronco Country went through their final soundcheck I overheard two crusty gutter punks talking about the band most people came to see.
“Have you ever seen Bronco Country?”
“No. I can’t wait! I’ve heard they’re crazy.”
“Man, Bronco Country is the best thing that’s ever happened to Grand Junction.”
That statement is more accurate than you might think. Since that last Bronco Country show, one that nearly broke the Fifth Street dive bar, Grand Junction’s music scene has been lackluster to say the least. Without a proper punk band to stand up and kick the teeth out of a community completely stuck in place, there’s been little musical action to be truly excited about.
That changes next week.
After almost a year off, Bronco Country is back for one more show. Playing a huge bill on Friday, Aug. 26, with Zolopht, Mount Orchid, Johnson County Corners, Ryan Harrison and Shawn Ray at Barons Grill, this is a rare chance to feel alive and excited in Grand Junction.
Front man Matt Zurek, guitarist Griff Chiono, bassist Colin Keefe, and drummer Austin Martinez combine to make Bronco Country the raddest band Junction has ever known. If you talk to them they will probably downplay their relevance, but the way Grand Junction connects to this band emotionally, like they did on that night in November, and like they will at Barons, is special.
At the end of Bronco Country’s most riotous song, the one that really drives crowds nuts, “The Fuzz,” Zurek sings “we’re just having fun/ having some beers/ what’s the big deal?”
The big deal is, this is Bronco Country’s party and we’re just lucky to be on the guest list.
Local benefit helps raise over $4,000 for Zolopht.
If there is one truth about being part of a music community, it’s that musicians take care of each other.
There’s an unwritten code musicians abide by. For example, if someone needs a PA system for a show and you happen to have one available, you let them borrow it. If you are playing a show and someone needs a guitar cable, you let them borrow one.
Simple things like this happen in all music communities. Here in Grand Junction, though, our community has raised the bar of support.
By now I’m sure you’ve heard about what happened to local band Zolopht. Having had over $20,000 worth of music equipment stolen in Houston during the homestretch of their last tour, Zolopht found themselves in a tough spot. How do you continue on as a band when you’ve literally lost everything?
Thankfully for Zolopht, Grand Junction came together to help make things right.
Local radio DJ for Drive 105 and host of the Local Legends show Dustin Coren played a big role, helping to organize multiple fundraisers that brought 20 businesses and 11 local bands to the table to raise money for the band.
Greg Hartman, operator of the Grand Valley Live music blog, donated proceeds from his first local music compilation, “Grand Valley Music Volume 1,” to Zolopht.
Sabrosa and Roasted opened up their venues for an all-day benefit concert and silent auction, again with event proceeds going to Zolopht.
All in all, over $4,000 was raised over the weekend at the “Save Our Zolopht” benefit concert, and approximately $7,500 was raised pre-show through direct donations.
The generosity of these individuals, business and many more unnamed individuals is staggering. Unfortunately it’s not an uncommon occurrence for bands to have their gear stolen while on tour. The way our local community responded is, however, absolutely unique and quite shocking.
If this were to happen to a touring band from a metropolitan area, do you think they’d be as lucky as Zolopht? Absolutely not. Most bands in similar situations would be left begging for help on online fundraising sites.
Not our Zolopht. Not in Grand Junction. This spirit of collaboration and cooperation amongst our music community is special.
If you look closely around the valley, that spirit lives on in places like the Electric Ballroom, a multi-use rehearsal space and art studio for local bands and artists. It lives on the 970West Studio at Mesa County Libraries which provides space and equipment for audio and digital production.
You can watch that sense of community take place in real time at the new Wednesday Open Mic night at the Rockslide.
This Open Mic is a joint effort between musicians Lloyd Anthony and Gabe Smith, and videographer Nick Moore. Anthony hosts the event, Smith runs sound and records audio, and Moore documents the whole event through video and photo, and posts content to social media. It’s a collaborative effort, which aims to bring musicians together and highlight the area’s talent.
Just last Wednesday I watched four individual musicians from Grand Junction and Montrose play 15-minute sets. A couple touring bands also stopped in to play a quick set before heading off to the Underground Music Showcase in Denver. I also chatted with a number of drummers, guitarists, and singers about upcoming projects and, of course, what was happing with Zolopht.
Local bands form and dissolve. Great venues come and go. What will always remain, though, is the bond between musicians and the overwhelming support they share for one another. In an area so economically and socially distressed as ours, this is one thing Grand Junction can be proud of.